Controlling Your Winter Cravings

Winter has come! It’s cold out there, the days are getting shorter and the seasonal blues have hit. Whatever the reason, when winter hits, cravings for comfort food increases.

We long for foods that will warm us up quickly and this message is usually played out as a craving for carbohydrate-rich foods. The sugars and starches in these foods provide the instant "heat" boost your body is longing for.

Unfortunately when we give in to those cravings for sugary, starchy foods, our blood sugar spikes and then just as quickly falls. As a result, it sets up a cycle that keeps the cravings in motion. We get hungrier quicker so we reach out for more carbohydrate-rich foods to satisfy that hunger.

Something else to consider is that with the days getting shorter, there are less daylight hours, which causes our bodies to have a lack of exposure to natural light. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD leads to problems with the body’s biological clock as well as reducing our levels of serotonin, also known as the ‘happy’ drug. With lower levels of serotonin in our blood, we look to ‘self-medicate’ with those carbohydrate-rich foods that give us a serotonin rush. Furthermore, when it’s dark and gloomy, we tend to generally eat more and go for stews, mashed potatoes, pasta dishes – the dishes that make us feel warm and cozy.

If the first two symptoms weren’t already working against us, winter can also cut into the amount of physical activity we do. Not only do shorter days and colder weather reduce our outdoor time, but also our motivation to exercise reduces. Exercise helps increase serotonin levels, so if we are not exercising, our appetite increases to increase the serotonin levels, which ultimately means we’re eating more and moving less - and that’s a disaster plan for weight gain.

Studies have shown that the population on average puts on between 4 – 8kg during the winter months and although having a heartier appetite for a few months of the year is not the end of the world, it can become detrimental when it happens year in year out. However with a little bit of planning, we can keep can take control and keep our life and appetite in harmony.

Here are some suggestions on how you can do this:

  1. Eat a healthy snack in between meals – try some nut butter on apple slices, rice crackers with avocado and sliced tomato, veggie sticks and hummus dip. Healthy snacking will fuel your body's heat mechanism, helping keep you warmer.
  2. Make a winter activity plan for your exercise regime. Set yourself some realistic goals about the number of times you can exercise and schedule those in as appointments in your diary.
  3. Create lower calorie alternatives to the food you are craving. For example, top your shepherd’s pie with pumpkin and sweet potato mash, make an almond flour dough for your pizza bases or make cauliflower rice to have with your curries.
  4. Get a daily dose of light. Make the effort to spend at least 10 minutes outdoors in sunlight everyday.
  5. Keep the temptation of sweet treats out of the house. As they say out of sight, out of mind.

I hope that these tips can help you beat those winter cravings, and keep you on track for your ‘summer body’! Remember, warmer weather is potentially only three months away!


Keren is the founder of Vital Assurance, and hopes to bring to you her passion for healthy eating and living.